Roostica on Stock Island – Review

Roostica – Photo Credit: conchscooter.blogspot.com

On our way to the airport to drop off the kiddos, we decided to pop into Roostica for a late lunch. We learned about this place years ago from family friends who have lived down here my whole life. Their daughters waitressed here. Their business is right down the street also on Stock Island (a few miles outside of Key West). For some reason (perhaps eating the bounty of the sea gets old after a while?) there is no scarcity of pizza places in the lower keys. In fact, there is one right at the entrance to my neighborhood (but since they changed owners/chefs and decided cardboard was better than crust, I will not recommend them).

If you ever decide to drive down from Miami to Key West (worth the 3.5+ hours it takes, I assure you), you will see for yourself how many pizza joints pop up on all the little islands. That being said, there are few that meet the quality of Roostica’s pies. While they have a rather comprehensive menu, I recommend the Quattro Formaggi (4 Cheeses) pizza. While most white cheese pizzas are cheesy and (sometimes) garlicky, this one was over-the-top delicious. Why, you may ask, was this one so much better than normal? The inclusion of gorgonzola. That little bit of blue cuts through the richness of the four cheeses and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes on top will make you moan with pleasure.

As chance would have it, the owner popped over to say hi right as we were hands deep in the delicious pizza. Bob sidled up to us casually in the standard keys uniform – shorts and a T-shirt with sandals. He and I immediately agreed that the gorgonzola was the best thing about this particular pie. He also told us about his more recent restaurant project Geiger Key Marina (another reason to get a car when you’re here – so many great keys besides Key West to explore). Follow Boca Chica Road to the end and you’ll see this fabulous little spot on the water with great views and good food.

I just found out also that Roostica has brunch! I’ll definitely be back to give that a go.

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Check out my Grill! :)

Grilling is an understandably popular choice in the keys because it is always warm out, you want to cook outside whenever possible to prevent heating the house, and it paves the way for poolside meals (which who wouldn’t want those whenever possible?). Luckily for me Mr. FL Keys Foodie is a grill master, having benefited from a firm education in grilling by his father. I know how to turn on the grill, how to grill certain things like kebabs, lobster tail, and shrimp (mostly due to my desire for culinary experiments), but I am not a grilling expert. I like watching grill shows on the Food Network and reading about the methods in cookbooks, but ultimately I like outsourcing it. It works perfectly since our grill is downstairs on the patio, so we can divide and conquer.

Last night we kept things very simple on account of a busy day for all of us (and still having to feed three hungry teenagers): cheeseburgers, fries, and grilled pineapple spears.

Mr. Foodie always makes a great burger. He knows just how to shape them, how to move them on the grill, when they are cooked perfectly. All his burgers are great, but by far my favorite one he’s ever made is the roasted red pepper burger. This happened one night while at my parents’ house which typically lacks fresh ingredients because they rarely cook for themselves. We had burger meat and a tiny container of leftover roasted red peppers from our local grocery olive bar. Inspired, Mr. Foodie diced them, put them in the burger meat and started to grill. They took a bit longer because of the peppers, but they were so damned juicy and flavorful and good. While he was cooking, I was scrounging for buns and cheese – nothing but processed kraft (which I haven’t been able to stomach in 10 years) and then I saw a hunk of cheese leftover from some cheese plate my mom made (we both love cheese). So I sliced it up and used it – the fontina took that delicious burger right over the edge. My mother and I were mooning about how delicious it was the whole time we were eating. I’ll make it for you from scratch some time (with pics) so you can enjoy it also. Suffice it to say, the kids were happy.

Grilled Pineapple Spears – Photo Credit: centercutcook.com
(yes I don’t have a photo of ours because we ate them too quickly)

Now the pineapple spears were introduced to me by one of my bridesmaids who used to frequent my parents’ house on the weekends for grilling out since we lived close by and her partner was away serving our country. I cannot remember what else we made for dinner that day, but she suggested we grill pieces of pineapple since we were grilling anyway and we had picked up a fresh pineapple. So we tried it. OMG was it delicious. Our guests, my parents, and we just loved the warmth and smoky taste on the pineapple pieces. I don’t think I should have been so surprised because we cook fruit all the time and it’s great, but I was surprised at how much I liked it. This time I cut the pineapple into spears to make it easier to grab and we enjoyed them immensely.

The fries were bagged frozen little things because, as I said, busy day and because I am saving our real potatoes for an amazing dish that I’ll post later in the week, so stay tuned!

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Custard is King

Photo credit: Florida Keys Treasures

Custard is king down in the lower keys where the Key Lime Pie reigns supreme. It is perhaps obvious why a key lime dessert might be so popular down here where key limes are grown (although many are now imported), but why custard is so popular is another matter all together. Perhaps it is because it is cool and light in a place where it is daily hot and heavy with humidity. Everyone knows baking cakes in humid weather is more than a little challenging. According to the incomparable Victoria Shearer (more on her to come), key lime pie was born out of necessity for the early keys inhabitants who had limited access to fresh dairy. The first key lime pies were made with eggs, condensed milk, and key lime juice. They were even made without the benefit of an oven (another boon in this climate) as the pie was “actually cooked by the high acidic content of the key lime juice.” Now, of course, we bake key lime pies for health and safety reasons. Whatever the case, you can find key lime pie anywhere in the keys as well as a number of other tasty custard-based desserts. On one of our recent trips to the Wharf Bar and Grill, we ate this salted caramel cheesecake and it was incredibly good. Just the perfect balance of salt and sweet with an excellent buttery crust.

At some point I hope to make my own key lime pie with key limes from my own tree, so stay tuned for that adventure. For now we buy our pie from a little bakery down the street that I will definitely write about soon since you won’t want to miss a trip there on your way to and/or from Key West.

Salted Caramel Cheesecake – Wharf

Square Grouper – Review

The Square Grouper is the companion restaurant to The Joint which we visited on my birthday. My future in-laws and my parents were in town for the long weekend, so we have been eating out a lot. Fine with me, I have so many places in the lower keys I love and so many new ones to try now that I live here. The Square Grouper has been a family favorite for years. We stumbled in once in mid-August when most of the tourists were gone and the restaurant was still packed (mostly with locals).

The first thing you need to know is that a square grouper is a reference to the drug-smuggling history of the Keys. A massive amount of marijuana used to be smuggled by boat trough the keys and then shipped up to the mainland via trucks. If the coast guard was heading your way and you had bales of mary jane, you’d simply dump them overboard where they became known as “square groupers.”

Key Lime Pasta 

The second thing you need to know is that this amazing establishment is owned by a woman which pleases me immensely since so few restaurants are. She definitely knows what she is doing and her Yelp reviews reflect that.

One of the first things I tasted (and fell in love with) was their sweet potato fries. It is perhaps strange to start out a review of a fish place with a side dish, but that is how good these things are. These are by far the best I’ve ever had anywhere. If you are like me and prefer your sweet potatoes savory, then these are the fries for you. They are perfectly fried with a hint of seasoning that perfectly balances out the sweetness of the potato. I dreamt of these fries for years when I lived in D.C. and never found their equal.

Lamb Ribs w/ Crostini

The second dish I remember loving and mooning over afterwards is their key lime pasta. I did not get a bite of it this time because it is a dinner dish and we were there for lunch, but I wanted it so badly! Again, strange to review a pasta dish before their fish, but you won’t be sorry if you order this (and you can add fish of course). The pasta is perfectly cooked bow-tie with this light, creamy, with the perfect touch of lime that sends this dish over the top.

Fish tacos w/ sweet potato fries

On this trip I ordered the lamb with crostini (I swear I’m getting to the fish soon) because I can rarely pass up the chance to eat lamb since I have it so rarely. I was not disappointed! It was two cuts of ribs each packed with a rosemary spice mixture and falling off the bone delicious. I was delighted to walk past their on-premises herb garden where they grow many of their flavors (they also fish for their own catch!). The lamb dish was a small plate, but I found it a perfectly good amount (especially since I also had the sweet potato fries). The crostini had a good flavor combo (green olives and goat cheese), but could have benefited from some moisture.

Salad w/ Scallops

My mother ordered fish tacos and my future mother-in-law ordered a salad with scallops. I tasted both, of course, and they were declared wonderfully tasty by the whole table. The dads ordered fish sandwiches, one grouper and one the catch of the day which was mangrove snapper. My review of their fish dishes joins many others in saying that they know how to prepare fish. The scallops were cooked perfectly, the fried fish breading is light and crisp, the flavors are incomparable. Grouper, of course, makes frequent appearances, but they serve many types of fish and always have a catch of the day option.

To cap off our experience, we ordered a scoop of salted caramel ice cream which was topped with whipped cream and mint. It had a subtle salt/caramel flavor that was nice and light after the big meal. Check this place out the next time you’re near Cudjoe Key right off of US-1.

Birthday Cocktail – The Joint in Cudjoe Key

So yesterday was my birthday! I was almost a 4th of July baby, but not quite. My sainted mother had to deal with an overdue child in the middle of a Death Valley summer. Luckily we were able to celebrate this birthday here in the blue green waters of the lower keys. While we ate and drank a lot of delicious things this past weekend, I really want to tell you about this cocktail I had at The Joint (located around mile marker 25). It is only a couple years old and owes its success to its downstairs counter-part, The Square Grouper, a local favorite (and my family’s favorite) for years. The Joint is a casual bar and small plates place with quaint fishing decor and some rather inventive cocktails. My mother had a cucumber, black pepper, vodka cocktail that was stange, but delicious to ladies like us who don’t care for sweet drinks. Mine was called the Indica and consisted of torched-rosemary infused vodka, grapefruit juice, and St. Germain with a sprig of fresh rosemary for garnish. You definitely need to love rosemary to drink this drink, but luckily I do because it was delicious. We ordered some small plates as well, but the show-stopper was the cheese fondue. If you’re looking for a laid back, but slightly trendy atmosphere, see that you pop into The Joint for a drink and a game of shuffleboard.